International scientists have long been researching the link between climate change and migration so they better understand the consequences of variations in the climate – not just extreme weather events but everyday seasonal variation – on the lives of the local populations. In doing so for the past 21 years, researchers have been studying the migration patterns of people in Pakistan. The scientists, led by the International Food Policy Research Institute Valerie Mueller, measured the relationship between Pakistanis’ movements and change in a handful of environmental variables, from the quantity and timing of rainfall, to temperature, the strength of the annual monsoon and the occurrence of floods. While researchers continue to take a special interest in the problems of the global south, our own governments are not even ready to begin to comprehend what climate change is and how they should build policy to address problems that will arise as consequence in the future.

Common narratives of climate-induced migration traditionally assumes that large catastrophic natural disasters are the main cause of people moving in large numbers to seek safety for their families and livestock. The example of this phenomenon was experienced just last week by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh when the devastating cyclone Roanu forced over 375,000 people from their homes, 200,000 from Colombo alone and stranded thousands in the worst flooding to hit the island nation in decades. It then unleashed its fury on the coast of southern Bangladesh on Saturday, forcing half a million people to flee their homes and leaving 20 people dead in floods and rain-triggered landslides. Stating these numbers do not do justice to convey the gravity of the situation where developing countries like those mentioned above do not have the means or resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis that follows after such a mass exodus.

Coming back to the study conducted it was concluded that even though Pakistan is prone to extreme flooding events, like the devastating 2010 floods that affected 20 million people and forced 14 million to move temporarily, flooding in general has little effect on where people chose to live long-term. Migration in Pakistan is hence defined by temperature and the spring and winter farming season. As temperature and weather patterns change, previously productive agricultural ground may become too expensive to work in. As the farmers protesting on Mall Road last week claimed, they are made to pay exorbitant fees for water from tubewells and at the end of the day the produce does not make them a substantial profit. High heat wipes out the farming economy, the researchers suggest, causing Pakistani men to pack up and leave for greener pastures, affecting the agricultural economy for the worst.

Now let us look at the implication of this integral research that provides an explanation for Pakistan’s migration patterns. Migration often seems to be misperceived as a failure to adapt to a changing environment. Instead, migration can also be an adaptation strategy to climate and environmental change and is the case of the farmers. At the same time, mass migration in particular, can also have significant environmental repercussions for areas of origin, areas of destination, and the migratory routes in between and contribute to further environmental degradation. The land that is left behind becomes too arid for agricultural use and hence is rendered useless, while the one where temperatures are more favorable become burdened due to over cultivation.

March 2016 marked the 11th record-hot month in a row, and 2016 is widely considered on track to be the hottest year of the modern era. A video went viral on social media last month of a gravedigger at an Edhi graveyard in Karachi, digging mass graves in preparation for casualties expected during the current heatwave. A severe heat wave with temperatures as high as 49 °C struck southern Pakistan in June 2015, claiming 2000 lives and the provincial government and the civil society of Karachi were better prepared this year in case such an event repeats itself. The government can prepare itself to mitigate the effects of extreme weather yes, but how will it mitigate against the effects of mass migrations caused due to higher temperatures? What is in store for the farming community of Pakistan in the face of this rapidly changing climate? Is the government even aware, let alone prepared, to handle a large cohort of climate migrants?

John Kerry while addressed a global warming conference in Alaska, depicted a horrifying future for the world, “You think migration is a challenge in Europe today because of extremism, wait until you see what happens when there’s an absence of water, an absence of food, or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival,” the US secretary of state warned. This holds true for Pakistan today and the future will only be tenfold worse. Water has become a scarcity, food security cannot be promised even for the next five years and conflict continues despite a full-scale military offensive. We must acknowledge that climate migrants are going to increase in the future and the government must not only mitigate but also tailor its policy to contribute fully to a zero carbon future.